By Kelly Geraldine Malone in Saskatoon
Opposition New Democrats Leader Carla Beck said it’s time to do the hard work to provide an alternative to the governing Saskatchewan Party in her first speech at the helm during the party’s annual convention.
“It’s going to take a lot of hard work, but we’ve never been afraid of that,” Beck said at the convention in Saskatoon Saturday.
Beck was the first woman elected to lead the Saskatchewan New Democrats when she stepped into the role in June after the resignation of former leader Ryan Meili earlier in the year. Meili’s departure followed the loss of NDP stronghold Athabasca in a byelection, demonstrating some divisions in the New Democrats.
It is the first in-person convention for the New Democrats in three years.
“Since we were last at a convention like this we’ve been through a bit: a global pandemic, a disappointing election, a leadership race,” Beck said.
The convention’s theme is “building to win” and Beck said it marks the beginning of the New Democrats election campaign. She reiterated promises for plans to retain doctors, advance reconciliation and develop industry while reducing carbon emissions.
Beck criticized the governing Saskatchewan Party for not doing more to keep doctors and health care workers in the province and said Premier Scott Moe plays political theatre to shore up the base. She said in the four months she’s been leader, people have told her they are tired of division, cuts and negativity.
“Saskatchewan New Democrats are the only ones that can deliver that change that so many people are looking for right across the province.”
The NDP has 12 of 61 seats in the Saskatchewan legislature, dropping its seat count in nearly every election since former premier Lorne Calvert won government in 2003.
The New Democrats received a needed boost when they achieved an overwhelming win in the byelection for Meili’s Saskatoon Meewasin riding.
While the next provincial election is still around two years away, the Saskatchewan Party has kept a stronghold on the province.
Polling has shown the Saskatchewan Party government still has strong support, although they’ve been criticized for their response to health care and inflation.
Lori Johb, president of the Saskatchewan Federation of Labour, spoke at the convention saying that the increases to cost of living means workers are struggling to get by. They are taking second jobs or leaving the province altogether, she said.
“Workers cannot afford to wait any longer,” Johb said.
Moe’s recent focus has been on the federal government and Justin Trudeau. He has said he’s prepared to take legal action over federal regulations on pollution and released a policy paper on the Saskatchewan government’s plan to flex its own autonomy, starting with a bill to be introduced this fall to address federalism.
The province is also experiencing a resource windfall in potash, uranium and oil brought on by the Russian invasion of Ukraine and global supply issues. But Beck criticized Moe’s government for having no plan for when prices fall.
Beck, taking a more centrist approach than the party’s federal counterparts, said Saskatchewan can provide the country and the world with resources that are needed today. But, she said, it must also plan to provide what’s needed in the future, including green energy options.
The three-day convention will also see a celebration of the 60th anniversary of medicare, featuring special video presentations from former premier Roy Romanow and federal NDP leader Jagmeet Singh.
The keynote speech Sunday will be delivered by Wab Kinew, leader of Manitoba’s New Democrats, who held their own convention last week.
Beck said she knows there is a lot more hard work to come in the future, but she is hopeful for the party and the people of the province.
“We are passionate about helping people and making our province a better place.”
This report by The Canadian Press was first published Oct. 22, 2022.
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